10 May 2015

My Mother is a strong, God-fearing woman. In addition to doing the usual duties of a farmer’s wife, she focused on helping others in the community. To this day she still volunteers at the local elementary school, tutoring children who are struggling with reading.

Science was not something she strongly embraced, particularly on topics like evolution and cosmology. So what to do with a child who had a deep interest in science? Early on she could help make baking soda volcanoes, or collect and categorize leaves for a school project, but as her son delved more deeply into books and starting rambling about black holes and subatomic particles it became something she struggled to understand.

Rather than ignoring or discouraging her son’s interests, she focused on what she knew to be true. The universe is a wondrous creation. When I looked at the moons of Jupiter with a small telescope, and saw their positions change night after night, she watched them too, and noted their wondrous precision. When I wanted to get up at 3am to see a meteor shower, or a lunar eclipse, she was there, and filled with awe. She helped me find the Andromeda galaxy in the night sky, and was amazed at how distant a galaxy could be.

She didn’t necessarily believe all the things scientists said about the universe, but she saw wonder in all of it, and tried to instill that sense of awe in her son. She also made it clear that the knowledge we gain about the universe doesn’t diminish its awe.

The sense of wonder she instilled in me is part of what drove me to become an astrophysicist. The importance of doing good in the community, which she nurtured in me, is part of the reason I write this blog. To this day my Mother isn’t entirely sure what I do, but she’s proud of the scientist I’ve become.

While it is worth celebrating scientists who were also mothers, it is also worth celebrating those who were mothers of scientists. God knows I wasn’t an easy child to raise, and yet my Mother did it with grace while managing a farm.

And that makes her a wonder.